There aren’t many things I’d contemplate taking a sixteen hour bus journey to see.
Maybe to watch Crystal Palace play in Europe, potentially to see an Oasis reunion concert, or possibly even to watch Katie Hopkins attempt to jump the Springfield Gorge on a skateboard à la Homer Simpson.
However, since none of those things look like happening anytime soon, I had to settle for the pilgrimage from Florianópolis to Iguazu Falls instead.
The falls are one of those things that you only ever expect to see on a TV nature programme, with David Attenborough’s dulcet tones describing the majestic flow of water before he inevitably gets distracted by a bird of prey circling overhead having spotted a family of lizards vulnerably perched on a rock below. Or something like that.
But without trying to sound too clichéd, Iguazu Falls defy description (which, ironically, is exactly what I’m going to attempt), and really are a force of nature that you have to see to believe.
Forming a border between South Americas two biggest countries, the best way to see the falls is from both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides, where you’re exposed to two incredibly different experiences.
The small city of Foz do Iguaçu serves as the Brazilian access point to the falls, and it’s best to go here first if you don’t want to end up thoroughly underwhelmed.
Brazil treats you to beautiful panoramic views of the falls, and being so close to the border meant I even received a ‘Welcome to Argentina’ text from Virgin Mobile, who took their proud place above Dominos and Voicemail as my most frequent contacts.
However, the Brazilian trail only takes about an hour to walk, and you’re left looking on in envy at the ant sized tourists in Argentina who look like they’re having a better time than David Attenborough’s cameraman.
Essentially, the Brazilian side of the falls merely whets the lips for what’s to come in Argentina. La Garganta del Diablo (The Devils Throat) was undoubtedly the highlight, but even this gets dwarfed by the Argentinian vantage point hundreds of metres above.
Crossing the border was quite the experience, being ditched by the bus at two sketchy border controls, then having to guess which bus to hop back onto, and travelling into a different time zone all in the space of just over an hour.
Eventually you end up at the Argentinian landing pad called Puerto Iguazu, another small settlement consisting of nothing more than hostels, restaurants, and travel agents. Upon arrival you wouldn’t have thought it was home to the largest waterfalls system in the world.
I don’t really buy into the concept that an object or event can be ‘breathtaking’, but there are definitely few things that evoke a response of ‘holy shit’.
Seeing the cataratas in Argentina did exactly that, and getting up close and personal with the falls makes it immediately obvious as to why they’re listed as one of the new seven natural wonders of the world.
You can spend a whole day on the Argentinian side and leave wanting one more glance at the falls feeling as if you’ve been at the world’s best waterpark for not much more than a tenner.
You’d like to think that Canadians know their waterfalls, and one chap from the hostel described Iguazu as ‘Niagra Falls on steroids’.
Indeed, this was a pretty apt description that was replaying in my head as I experienced Iguazu’s unforgiving strength firsthand via the boat ride directly underneath San Martin waterfall.
Imagine the wettest you’ve ever been, times it by two, add seven, then multiply that number by its square root, and your answer will be half as drenched as I was.
Pictures simply don’t do the falls justice, because it is only by hearing their deafening roar, feeling their brute force, and seeing the giant rising clouds of water that can make you appreciate just how powerful Iguazu Falls are.
I’m not usually one for ranking my experiences, but Iguazu Falls has been the comprehensive pinnacle of my trip so far, and will undoubtedly remain as one of the highlights of the next few months.
And this, for me, was my first experience of the real South America. The cities are great, the culture so very different from our own, but its natural beauty is unrivalled, and is the real reason why the continent attracts curious visitors from all over the world.
Next stop (without much to live up to, then), the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires. Until then.